For the very lucky couple who are perfectly balanced in their sexual needs and appetites, neither avoids sex. But if one partner goes off sex, the balance is lost and remedial action needs to be taken.
Most couples go through a stage where one or another partner avoids sex for at least some of the time. In some relationships one partner avoids sex for much of the time. When this happens, the other partner feels a strong sense of rejection and frustration.
An unconscious problem
When thinking about sex avoidance, a few points are worth considering. First, while the term gives the impression that the person who is doing the avoiding is behaving in this way consciously, this is often not the case. The majority of sex avoidance occurs for reasons of which the person involved is not consciously aware. The problems lie deep in the unconscious mind and usually have their origins in early life.
Second, many sex avoiders can perform sexually in other ways but go to pieces when intercourse is involved, and women can allow intercourse while avoiding actively participating in it.
Third, we all avoid sex from time to time, but for some people sex avoidance has become a way of life or at least a common occurrence. The man who sits in front of the late night movie while his wife goes to bed alone is a sex avoider. He may have a problem, or the relationship may be in trouble. Such avoidance is difficult to sort out, even for a skilled professional counsellor.
Last, it is important to bear in mind that a person who avoids sex is not necessarily acting in his or her best interests and often does not want to behave in that way. They realize that by avoiding sex they are hurting themselves and their relationship. The solution involves finding out why they are doing it, so that they can attempt to change things.
Men who avoid sex
There are some men who avoid almost any contact with women, while there are some who avoid sex only in certain situations or with certain women.
Some male sex avoiders fear ridicule for what they think is poor stature, poor genital size and shape, or even poor personality. Childhood conditioning leaves some men with both conscious and unconscious notions that women, especially those they love, are somewhat sexless, only having sex because they love them and do not want to let them down.
Other common unconscious notions are that women are very powerful and can punish men for their sexual interests in them, or that women reject men who show an interest in sex with them.
The downward path
Many men who have these unconscious notions and who see women as boring or unapproachable can still function quite well much of the time, but are easily tipped into sex avoidance. A row with their partner or a tiny sexual failure can set them on a downward path that can end in serious sex avoidance.
Often the man involved cannot achieve an erection when he wants to and this failure can last for months or even years. If he, even unconsciously, sees his partner as the cause of his distress, he may equally unconsciously avoid sex in order to punish her.
This may confirm many of his unconscious fears about women, especially if the woman scorns or rejects him for his failure. Even an apparently straightforward and sympathetic remark such as ‘Don’t worry, lots of men have problems like this’ can lead to rows, because the man may all too easily become preoccupied with thoughts about her previous lovers and how they made love to her.
It is easy to see how, once on the slippery slope, the man becomes afraid of making sexual advances because, having failed once, he expects more failures to follow. He focuses all his attention on his genitals and this makes him actually more likely to fail again, It is a vicious circle.
Some men start to avoid sex after years of happy lovemaking, It can occur as part of the gradual loss of excitement that can so easily come about as years pass. Sometimes, the birth of a baby may reawaken male anxieties about sexual wishes he had for his mother. A man who feels this avoids his wife now that she has stopped being a lover and become a mother in his eyes.
Women who avoid sex
As with men, at one end of the scale there are women who go out of their way to avoid any contact with the opposite sex, and, at the other end, there are those who conduct a normal relationship with a man for most of the time, only to be tipped into sex avoidance when a specific set of circumstances arises. The big difference between sex avoidance in men and women is that a man has to get an erection before intercourse. Any avoidance mechanisms are obvious because they will often prevent him from being able to have an erection.
A woman, on the other hand, can have intercourse whether or not she is aroused, so it is a lot more difficult to perceive when a woman is avoiding sex.
Sex and the mind
Some women, even though they display all the physiological and anatomical signs of sexual arousal, cannot accept that they are in fact aroused. Their unconscious mind cuts them off from their genitals, avoiding sexual pleasure, but refusing to acknowledge the fact.
Quite a large number avoid showing any sexual enthusiasm for fear of being thought of as ‘an easy lay’. Such women may have been brought up with the belief that they should play hard to get and wait for the man to make all the running. This can eventually produce a form of sex avoidance.
There is a subtle side to sex avoidance that occurs when someone sublimates his or her sexual drive and directs their energies into some non-sexual activity. Some people, women especially, can become almost totally immersed in other pastimes and exclude sex from their lives. Babies are a common focus of women’s sublimated sexual feelings. Some women go off sex for a long time after giving birth – they focus all their needs for loving and caring on the baby and seem to switch off totally from sexual involvement with their partner.
Selective sex avoidance
A complicating factor in both sexes, but perhaps more so in women, is the fact that almost any woman can avoid sex with one man yet be able to wholeheartedly enjoy it with another. This contrasts with men, who tend to experience any sexual problems they might have with all their current partners.
Women also often tend to follow the sexual style of their partner. If he is inhibited, shy, avoids sex or is even deviant, she will tend to behave similarly, whereas if he is free and open, she will usually follow suit. This usually means that if a woman is off sex, her partner should look at himself to see if he could be the cause.
Total sex avoidance
Some men and women avoid sex totally. For example, certain inexperienced boys and young men are so anxious about sex that they avoid all girls. They are not uninterested or gay, they just do not know how to make things happen.
In mature people, it sometimes happens that a man appears to be very attractive to and attracted by women and functions very well until he comes to the actual point of intercourse. He has trouble coping with a normal woman and her sexual appetite and may accuse her of being a sex maniac and back off. There are female equivalents of this.
Overcoming sex avoidance
Overcoming sex avoidance is not always simple. Most people find it very difficult, without professional help, to accept that they are avoiding sex. Often, it is the rejected partner who goes for help because they cannot stand the strain. Or a man may go for help with his impotence, the real cause of which is his wife’s sex avoidance. Cure the latter and the husband’s impotence probably disappears.
Many people who avoid sex have, to themselves, perfectly rational and convincing reasons for doing so. The truth that emerges in therapy is often quite different from what at first appears to be going on. All this can be very difficult to disentangle and, in very complicated cases, can stretch the professional skill of even the best counsellors.
Find the cause
Once you can come to terms with the possibility that you might be avoiding sex, start to look at your background to see what factors could have played a part. You may be able to pinpoint several things in your childhood and adolescence, or even in your current relationship, that would have contributed to your avoidance of sex.
Be very careful about focusing your attention too closely on your current problems. They are usually not to blame. The trouble usually lies further back in time.
When you think you may have identified the problem areas in your life that have contributed to your avoidance, talk things over with your partner. This can be very difficult at first, especially if you are not used to discussing intimate details of your lives, which in itself may be a cause of sex avoidance, especially if one of the partners is much less outgoing than the other.
This is where a professional counsellor can be helpful – if only because he or she will be at ease with such discussions and will know how to bring things out into the open.
Stop having sex
Take the pressure off intercourse and go back to courtship games and rituals. Removing the pressure can help, especially with male sex avoidance.
Show how you love one another by giving presents or phoning unexpectedly just to say ‘I love you’. Show each other a great deal of affection and take more interest in one another’s hobbies and jobs. Try to be especially attractive to your partner and go out for evenings together just as you did when you were in the first flush of romance. Recalling the carefree days of courtship may turn an unwilling partner into a sexually active one.
Take a sensual break. An evening, a weekend or a week spent together devoting yourselves single-mindedly to one another again can work wonders. The idea is to get out of the mould of your
normal love-life and to experiment and be inventive both in and out of bed. Share fantasies and act them out if possible. By re-educating each other sexually you can put back the eroticism into your life.